The government has approved Qatar as a destination for the growing number of Cambodian labourers seeking employment overseas.
Workers will not be recruited for housekeeping services, however, private sector officials said. The abuse of maids in Malaysia – many of whom were reportedly under-aged – has brought much scrutiny to the recruiting agencies that sent the women abroad.
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday approved the agreement on domestic labour with Qatar that the two governments originally endorsed in 2008.
A statement from the Council of Ministers said the agreement would promote a higher level of private-sector cooperation between Cambodia and the gulf state, something in line with the Kingdom’s goals for globalisation. It would also curb illegal migration and mitigate the risk of a domestic labour shortage, the statement said.
Hong Chheoun, director of Cambodia’s National Employment Agency, was not immediately available for comment.
The Qatari market needs thousands of labourers annually, a demand higher than other labour-importing countries, An Bun Hak, chairman of the Association of Cambodia Recruitment Agency, said.
“We’ve seen that Qatar’s labour market conditions are much better compared to many other countries in the Middle East,” An Bun Hak recently told the Post.
“The [Cambodian] government is in part trying to reduce unemployment. Domestic labour markets are also not sufficient in supporting young labourers, so this is a temporary strategy for helping them find employment.”
About 300,000 Cambodians enter the labour market each year, according to a report from the United Nations Development Programme. Securing employment for recent entrants would require cooperation between the government and the private sector, the report said.
Qatar will absorb up to 40,000 Cambodian workers a year with fixed salaries of up to US$400 per month for unskilled workers, An Bun Hak said.
Cambodians sent to Qatar would not work as maids or housekeepers as they have in other countries, An Bun Hak claimed. Sending workers to private households presents a risk for abuse, he said.
“We won’t allow them to work in the housekeeping industry because we have different cultures and daily living habits. We want to avoid any abuse that could happen by chance so we decided not to send them to work in housekeeping,” he said, adding that Cambodians would be employed as construction workers and hotel staff.
Nine Cambodian maids have died in Malaysia this year, the Post reported last month. The Cambodian government temporarily prohibited recruitment companies from sending young women to Malaysia last month after cases of rape, forced detention, exploitation and death rocked both countries.
The Philippines has considered banning labour recruiters from sending maids to Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates because the countries could not guarantee the protection of the workers, according to UAE business publication Arabian Business. But Cambodian workers in Qatar would be protected by the gulf state’s Ministry of Labour, An Bun Hak claimed. Employers would also provide round-trip airfares once a year, a unique offer from the country, he added.
Cambodia sends about 80,000 domestic workers to South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Japan every year. While private companies manage business between the latter three countries, the South Korean government manages incoming labour from Cambodia.
Cambodia also signed a similar memorandum of understanding with Kuwait in 2008, however, a formal agreement has yet to materialise, An Bun Hak said, adding that he was unsure if complaints of abuse in the country were at fault for the delay.
“We’re waiting for an annoucnment from the government on [the Kuwaiti] market. If it’s okay, we will contact [employers],” he said.